Tag Archives: Colin Insole

The Town Crier

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I think Colin Insole should write a new fiction entitled ‘The Town Crier’ in its literal sense.

In the meantime, I declare my candidacy to become his Bellman.

My review of his debut collection entitled ELEGIES & REQUIEMS (Side Real Press 2013): HERE

Details of his publications: HERE

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Colin Insole – Elegies and Requiems

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Very pleased to see this book is forthcoming from Side Real Press, with several brand new stories by Colin Insole.

[EDIT: 20.11.13: Just started a Real-Time Review of this book here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/elegies-requiems-colin-insole/ ]

Gratifyingly for me, two of this book’s stories were first published in:

The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies: The Apoplexy of Beelzebub

The First Book of Classical Horror Stories: The Appassionata Variations

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The Seer Is Never Thanked

I have just received the lovely box and covers for THE LAST THINKERS set plus THE MADMAN OF TOSTERGLOPE by Louis Marvick:


My reviews of the Last Thinker books:

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The Last Gold of Decayed Stars

by Colin Insole

Publisher’s description here: http://www.exoccidente.com/stars.html

On final page of this book: “‘The Last Gold of Decayed Stars’ has been limited to 158 numbered copies for sale, plus extra copies, which are reserved for private distribution. This is copy number” 24 (in red ink)

64 pages – with hedonistic cover, partly spine-overlapped decadent shivery hardish velvet to the touch in black (and I have been told by a third party that this is some weird animal hide).  Luxury stiff paper pages. Stitched to your reading-skin.

EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE – Bucharest – MMXIII

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A Secret in Illyria
“Anna hid her irritation at the woman’s glib and facile remark, but on her way home, her anger and self-reproach grew.”
Anita Brookner has been one of my favourite writers for many years, but sadly I have not seen a new novel from her recently.  This book — that I already (perhaps too early) infer to be a quilted novella of episodes imbued by vicarious Proustian memory — seems to have Brookner’s ‘soul’.  Now, having read this the first ‘story’ and riffled through the rest without yet reading them, this is Anna’s answer to what she sees as the tawdry seaside world (where I live): her threaded threnody with the musical sensibilities of, say, the Delius ‘Song of Summer’ deliciously prose-mingled with the Peter Warlock ‘Curlew’ – an idyllic revery in confrontation with modernity, reliving the past of foreigh climes with their even more foreign ‘mores’ where her grandmother once ‘inhabited’. Of course I may be completely wrong. We shall see… An exquisite start, though

THE ABOVE NEW-STYLE REAL-TIME REVIEW WILL CONTINUE BELOW IN THE COMMENTS TO THIS POST.

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Real-Time Regained

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“Click on this image for my Real-Time Reviews: supporting the known and unknown authors of good imaginative literature in a ground-breaking leitmotif / gestalt fashion from Nov 2008 to Oct 2012.”

That’s something I wrote on my site last October, having decided to retire, around the age of 65, from what was becoming an onerous, if enjoyable and hopefully altruistic, task.

Having conducted, in recent days, this experiment in real-time reviewing of Nicholas Royle’s FIRST NOVEL and QUILT, I am having a ‘second wind’. I must have passed through this  marathon ‘wall’!

For this purpose, I have pre-ordered WHITSTABLE (Spectral Press) by Stephen Volk, TALLEST TALES (Eibonvale Press) by Rhys Hughes, JANE (Chômu Press) by PF Jeffery, DEHISCENCE (Ex Occidente Press) by DP Watt and THE LAST GOLD OF DECAYED STARS (Ex Occidente Press) by Colin Insole – and I intend to resume my regular RTRs of future editions of BLACK STATIC (TTA Press) and THEAKER’S QUARTERLY FICTION and anything else that catches my eye, but please remember I continue not to accept free review copies of books.

Eventually these new RTRS will be listed and linked here.

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My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame

Image by Tony Lovell (2011)

My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame in no particular order:

Charles Dickens, Christopher Priest, AS Byatt, Enid Blyton, May Sinclair, HP Lovecraft, Barbara Vine, Reggie Oliver, Anita Brookner, WG Sebald, Jeremy Reed, Ian McEwan, Elizabeth Bowen, Stephen King, Oliver Onions, Marcel Proust, Salman Rushdie, Glen Hirshberg, Paul Auster, Mark Valentine, John Fowles, Edgar Allan Poe, John Cowper Powys, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Jack Vance, Philip K Dick, Jeff VanderMeer, Samuel R Delany, Anthony Burgess, Susanna Clarke, Rhys Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, MR James, Robert Aickman, Sarban, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Tommaso Landolfi, Kazuo Ishiguro, Quentin S. Crisp.

This is a list including writers I once considered in my Hall of Fame but now rarely read, and new writers whose works I read quite a lot and have included in my Hall of Fame fairly recently and variations upon that, but all have been major reading experiences some time in my life.  Apologies to those I’ve inadvertently omitted because of my semi-Proustian memory.

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The Apoplexy of Beelzebub

Reviews of this Colin Insole story (so far):

Colin Insole masterfully interweaves elements of hagiography, developmental child psychology, and fin-de-siècle paranoia, with a carefully chosen tableau of arresting images. ‘We nail our lies to the ghosts of suspicion.’ This is a magnificent tale, and one of the best I have read this year.

the cruelties of a decayed city whose residents keep elaborate records of the nastier aspects of their history.

“The Apoplexy of Beelzebub” by  Colin Insole ( an extraordinary emerging talent) is a marvelous, dark tale in which a researcher perusing the city archives unearths past tragedies and disreputable events involving her own family.

“The Apoplexy of Beelzebub” consists of many macabre or tragic digressions, miniature myths and fables all woven together with, and at times dominating, the main strand of his narrative to create a grotesque, pullulating effect.

This is dark, disturbing and unrelentingly grim. We can all feel trapped by family, place, convention, culture. In Mr. Insole’s nightmare city, insularity is celebrated, cruelty the greatest tradition, escape the worst sin. This will resonate with anyone who lives in any kind of community, or has a family, and will stick with me for a long time.

Another story, equally chilling in its ability to reveal the power of stories to corrupt our lives, is Colin Insole’s “The Apoplexy of Beelzebub”.  Insole has created a city somewhere between a fantasy city and a city in Britain’s North East, Hull comes to mind, in which a daughter strives to get away from her wicked (step?) mother and the poisonous web of libel and gossip which festers in the city archives.  Is the daughter in control of her destiny of not?  Will she escape the web of words?

Best Short Story – ‘The Apoplexy of Beelzebub’ by Colin Insole

“…the best story in the book, written with a style and panache which seems both in love with the grotesque things that it describes and at the same time to recoil from them, addressing themes of bullying and retribution.” (Black Static # 25 – TTA Press)

Insole’s story, published in the Des Lewis edited The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, took the prize with its invention, grimy atmosphere and minatory subtext.

Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will be shown in comments below.

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Underlooked Weird Fiction of the Year

Overlooked fiction – some fiction is even understandably overlooked by those collecting the titles of the overlooked Weird books of the year 2011. But some fiction is underlooked…

The Peacock Escritoire – by Mark Valentine

Allurements of Cabochon – by John Gale

Amerika – by Karim Ghahwagi

A Pallid Wave on Shores of Night – by Adam S. Cantwell

The Mauve Embellishments – by Charles Schneider

The Bestiary of Communion – by Stephen J Clark 

The Exorcist’s Travelogue’ – by George Berguño

Alcyone – Colin Insole

Link Arms With Toads! – Rhys Hughes

The Secret Life of the Panda – Nick Jackson

Even The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories  that is also first published in 2011.

 
 Plus others I’ve underlooked myself!  And books that don’t fit the genre being overlooked.
 
Des, Author of ‘Nemonymous Night’ (2011) and editor of ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’ (2011) – both retrocausally interlooked or disturbed by ‘floaters’!

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Alcyone – Colin Insole

I’m due shortly to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of ‘Alcyone’ by Colin Insole (Passport Levant MMXI). A book I purchased from Fantastic Literature.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/

My previous review of a Colin Insole book: (23 Nov 10): Oblivion’s Poppy – by Colin Insole

Colin Insole has a story in The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies

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Pages 7 – 13

“Do those figures depict the ghosts of our departed names?”

Three brief date-headed sections introducing a wistful turn-of-the-1980s-into-1990s (?) heritage-ritual of en-Durer of literariness and painterliness of a London haunted by a Prague heritage (?) and a word-converging of two destined strangers (?) via chance or or magic or syncronicity or mere authorial intention (?): hereby named unsteadily (?) Alice and Michael.

[dessicated –>desiccated. Tut Tut.] (15 Dec 11)

Pages 14 – 16

“And what follies do we bring from the west, wondered Alice, as they boarded their hotel taxi.”

A masterful evocation of Prague in 1990 as steeped in its own past, riparian or troop-train-riverine or otherwise, and nature / nurture – while, I guess, the honeymoon (?) couple enter their own dislocated-further-east ‘Death in Venice” (?) but don’t look now – it’s a couple not a solitary man and preludium is in control. I have no idea where this lexic river of fiction is going – let’s not pretend otherwise – but just let’s be proudly pretentious about such exquisite prose: Prague as a ‘genius loci’. It deserves being critically over-blown: it deserves its own coddling into existence as the physical pages turn. Good books need real pages. Stiff paper. Handleable emotions. Only indifferent books can make do with mere electronics, tempting a culture that in turn tempts piracy or plagiarism or deliberate torrenting towards vanishing waterfalls of forgetting ever having read what was ‘written’. (16 Dec 11)

Pages 16 – 26

“What are those buildings that rise like yellow fungi out of the gutters?”

I will not correct my own reading mistakes. Mistakes are the Reader’s art, the Reader’s privilege, and should stay ‘put’ to mark the reading-journey, especially a paying Reader like me – especially, too, with “a fiction of lies” which this fiction mentions and may or may not itself be, assuming any fiction has the ability not to lie or the effrontery to do so without upsetting any suspended disbeliefs or monetary regrets.  So let’s now describe the unmistakeable: i.e. this landscape-format book itself. Just over 90 pages of stiff quality paper, black endpapers, a heroically sturdy black fine-stitchy-board-cover with no writing upon it other than, in large print, on its front: WE ARE BETTER NOW WE ARE BETTER NOW: plus a black and white frontispiece of an art-deco-like (?) photograph (?) of a young sun(?)-bathing couple seated on a large geometrically shaped stone, their backs to us, staring out to sea; a startlingly stiff dust-jacket with a studious young profile outline-drawn on the front and the title / author’s name on the dust-jacket’s ‘spine’; and on the last page: “‘Alcyone’ was first published by Passport Levant in 2011 in an edition of 107 copies of which this is No. 25.” The ’25’ is handwritten in red ink. And the text of this section of pages has Prague and its buildings merging behind masks (like the words’ own masks themselves somewhat), references to a Tarot pack, mysteries blurring as the couple, Alice and Michael, show independence of each other in whatever each seeks in this novella, if not in the City itself. Acquaintanceships, names and learning-processes set up as the Reader squints between the lines. And a reference to starlings that for me contains a coincidence with the other book I’m simultaneously real-time reviewing here (the bird in its first story (a starling, too!) is astonishingly meaningful in resonance between the two books).  Thus, the Reader here is primed by preludium, if still feeling his or her own way. His or her own way, within the book, too. (16 Dec 11 – three hours later)

Pages 27 – 33

“Where his sword once flourished, peeped the head of a toothless fox, whose brush tickled the remains of his right ear.”

After much internal plot-searching (akin to heart-searching but not quite the same), Alice and Michael (hardly sweethearts!) only touch base at the end of this section – imbued with something that Prague hides and reveals simultaneously, i.e. as if strobing in and out of different existences: here with the flaying and flensing and mixing of animal and human, stone and flesh. Meanwhile, I have already drawn attention to the accretively synchronised real-time review here: and I just now read of a pomegranate being flensed etc. in the other book’s story ‘City in Flames’ and now a number of minutes later in ‘Alcyone’: “…the exposed flesh of pomegranates and the innards of beast and fowl…” And also girls unknotting Ligottian dolls cruelly and throwing them in the river in some form of scientific-religious summoning away of death so as “to carry summer into the city“.  Real Prague or an even realler visionary version of Prague as preludium sits on these pages by a form of literary osmosis, I suggest, and will be underpinned even further by matching it with whatever other book you are concurrently reading or have just read or about to read. That’s its magic. (16 Dec 11 – another hour later)

Or both books’ symbiosis of magic? (16 Dec 11) – another 30 minutes later)

Pages 33 – 44

These recent months of chaos and confusion have led to the rise of upstarts and parvenus – men who seek to profit from the relaxation of laws and controls.”

As above, so below. As then, so now. And so it will be forever or never. The inability of Reader to grapple simultaneously with plot and vision, stone and flesh, ancestor and descendant, man and woman (‘sweethearts’ at potential cross-purposes, even if any books-between have cross-references), the inability to thread an iconostasis across and over Prague’s statues, as filtered by tarot, bridge and house.  A river of dolls. Sometimes not understanding is understanding to the hilt.  And today is reflected in the stone-faced still of a prime minister caught on-pause thinking of his own aloneness without having prepared his face first.  Just a thought evoked by this densely textured, meaning-drained, meaning-full prose-sculpture. (16 dec 11 – another 3 hours later)

Pages 45 – 50

“Soon, you will recall him only in the sound of the rat’s feet scuttling in wainscots and under floorboards.”

A new day of reading – and, as if by further magic – the book’s Reader’s ‘dream’ is crystallising – and the Alice-Michael relationship and its concatenative hauntings by mineral, vegetable, animal and spiritual (four elements often blending), and by dreams (a fifth element?), heritages and speculative futures, all gradually becoming, for me, as handleable as the book is.  Goodness knows, if this were an Ebook, I can’t imagine how any reader would manage, even given strictly the same text to ‘read’. This is intensely a prose piece that is impossible to convey by review – so why am I doing so? Well, I feel compelled to do so – by forces both benign and malign (forces that may have nothing to do with the author or publisher, neither of whom I have met – and, in this connection, I confirm that I did visit Prague myself relatively briefly a few years ago as part of a holiday coach party from the UK). “And he remembered his father, humming the notes of a tune, barely recalled, like trying to summon the events of a distant dream.” (17 Dec 11)

Pages 50 – 58

“Here too, the ragged stones overlapped in a vertigo of entangled granite and shrub.”

Further plot- or quest-crystallisation by means, now, of Kingfisher and Alcyone herself (as well as Prague’s river, and the secrets within or below houses, upon bridges, among statues, images upon the surfaces of Tarot cards) continues, en-dures (en-Durer I wrote earlier somewhere above – this should have been en-Dürer)–> by my own use of desiccation, of extrapolation, of Venn diagrams, of scrying for meaning in animal and human and stone and vegetable as convergence-mapped by Dürer paintings (I infer) as well as the imputed motives of Alice and Michael and of those they meet in Prague (is it an accident that ‘Prague’ in English has a ‘vague’ (wave) partially embedded?)… (17 Dec 11 – two hours later)

Pages 58 – 71

“She dreamed of four girls, stood smiling on the banks of the Vltava. A tiny puppet bobbed on the water.”

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral Brethren, macabre chocolates, The Shadows’ Man of Mystery from my youth, scarecrow-clown, a man masquerading throughout the ages, I yearn for the calm suckling statuary above, placed there as antidote.  This book is getting to me.  Or am I getting to it?

“He feared the worst, expecting to see the remains of his wife.” (Cf: by a premonition or fearful memory deriving from the book in parallel real-time review). (17 Dec 11 – another hour later)

Pages 71 – 80

“23 April 1990.”

[St George’s Day, the day they once made me a pageant herald. Not 1990 though, but 1959.] This book – relatively compact and cosy in this vast heavy-duty tome of landscaped beauty – needs several readings to gain the honourable and valiant Reader’s money’s worth. And I can confirm you will not only need many re-readings of it, you will desire them, too. So please take this review as just one reader-creature’s initial scratching at its surface in preparation for finding its most vulnerable spot for its critical forensic lance. It is probably the most satisfyingly ‘difficult’ book I have ever read. It may be an ever-lasting Uccello depiction of a literary dragon in the shape of paper and board. Or a fox. Or kingfisher. Or something else that will cringe at my overkill. But of course, upon a mere second reading, I may find I have deceived myself as to any promise at all. Meanwhile, here, in this section of pages: The Dreamer — “The Room of Solitudes” —  Ancient sea creatures as one living organism — “Behind him, she could feel the shadows…”“a butcher paunching a rabbit.” — “the Prague Spring” — “Little tics and twitches” like jumping nerves in the text itself — “Shards of stone and metal in a rainbow arc” — the piecemeal revelation of each Tarot Card like the turning of each literally stiff page-card of this book… I’ve heard of books that are praised as page-turners, but this is something else! (17 Dec 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Pages 80 – 92

“There are perilous stones of illusions and secrets where a man may see reflected the terror of his own soul. But, also they may conceal great beauty,…”

Perhaps not so ‘difficult’ after all. The book draws to its close exquisitely with a retrocausal satisfaction that you have always understood it to the hilt.  But whether this was any protagonist’s version of ‘Death in Venice’, and, if so, who the Dirk Bogarde, who the Reader, you will need to read the book to discover. Don’t look now. Or should I have said earlier: Don’t look back. Don’t look directly into its sun – it may worse than blind you. Or it may fill you with something wonderful.  The Reader takes that risk.

For the remainder of your life you will vainly try to recapture the past you discarded.” Not quite like Proust. But like wondering why there was an extra empty seat in that holiday coach on its return journey. (17 Dec 11 – another 45 minutes later)

  ABOVE NOW CONCLUDED (finally some of my own living ‘statue spore’ below)

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The Master in Café Morphine

My scanning of huge dust jacket in necessarily two sections  – and my apologies for not managing its exact contiguity. (Its artwork is by Santiago Caruso).

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I’m due shortly to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of ‘The Master in Café Morphine’A Homage to Mikhail Bulgakov – Edited by Dan T. Ghetu (Ex Occidente Press MMXI). A contributor’s copy of the book.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/

I am pleased to see this publisher (Dan Ghetu of Ex Occidente Press) is still prolific in publishing great books, contrary to what I was led to understand and as publicly anticipated by the publisher himself a few months ago. I hope the logistics of book delivery and authorial care have improved from what I was also led to believe publicly from various third parties some time ago. I’ve never needed to complain in respect of myself, I hasten to add.

Authors featured in this Anthology: Mark Valentine, Jonathan Wood, Stephen J. Clark, Colin Insole, Michael Cisco, Rhys Hughes, Adam Golaski, D.P. Watt, Adam S. Cantwell, Charles Schneider, Allyson Bird, Justin Isis, Nina Allan, Me, R.B. Russell, Eric Stener Carlson, Reggie Oliver, John Howard, Mark Beech, Albert Power, George Berguño.

I am told that two other stories,  A Certain Power by Mark Valentine and The Horned Tongue by Stephen J. Clark, were both exclusively written for this Bulgakov
homage anthology and that they have been excluded because they have appeared in other Ex Occidente books. Therefore, I shall be considering both these stories at the end of my review to judge whether this book’s gestalt would have been affected.

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At first glance – a massively gorgeous book, restricted to 100 copies, portrait format, red mock-cyrrilic lettering for some titles/headings/quotes, 370 pages, stiff pages, stiff textured dust-jacket, frontispiece (by whom?), and a design on heavy-duty board-cover within dust-jacket (a design by C.C. Askew of the Eternal Sekret Society?)

The quote at the beginning of the book seems of our time – with today’s UK politics – and in many more ways than one:

“The séance is over!
Maestro! Hack out a march!” – Mikhail Bulgakov

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Nine Exhibits – by Mark Valentime

“Mikhail Afanasyevich’s stove was one of the most well-read in Russia. It consumed many pages of his work.”

I couldn’t stop laughing at that, so I won’t resist risking a spoiler by making that my quote of the day for this review.  But, having said that, there is something even funnier here about a cat’s dream that I won’t quote by spoiling. But, then again, should a homage to Bulgakov be treated so lightly?  Only if death is inevitable, I’d say. And stories episodically maxim-al. (20 Jul 11)

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This book, as a book, is something you need to keep handling and looking at – an obsessive plaything, the playful dust-jacket design spiking itself, less than playfully, somewhere into an area that is the ‘Hollow Earth’ within you, that brings me to…

Beloved Chaos that Comes by Night – by Jonathan Wood

“To be alone in London, is truly to know loneliness from within a glass jar, where silent leeches come and go and journey across one’s face for evermore, marking out one’s allotted time in piteous slime.”

I recall reading Jonathan Wood in the late eighties or early nineties in the small press, with huge distantly-paragraphed blocks of Proustian-stretching prose – and I was captivated. Equally, here. This substantial story is the mutantly symbiotic tale of two cities, or two countries (England and Russia), a first-person singular protagonal actor turned involuntary playwright then terrorist tramp…  A fiction describing its own urban landscape as a writer’s block ironically filled with words… I shall need to let the story percolate in this book’s future context, as if it is due to be groomed beyond any moral compass, forced into words it did not intend to mean what they did mean, forced, too, into becoming a literary suicide-bomb for the yet unread stories to conceal about their hollow ‘persons’? (20 Jul 11 – three hours later)

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Behemoth’s Carnival – by Stephen J. Clark

“Yet these were the elect of the melancholy come to hear the old cat speak.”

With the ‘Meow!’ (from a previous Ex Occidente Book – Amerika – by Karim Ghahwagi – another Bulgakov homage?) ringing in my ear and recalling the implied Nine Lives of the Valentine story above – I enjoyed this Hadean / Avernal vignette or maxim-al fable  or anthropomorphic (anti-)religious tract in code or a new fish and loaves parable or mischievous mummery… (21 Jul 11)

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The Princess of Phoenicia – by Colin Insole

“That afternoon I sought solace and consolation in ‘The Hall of the Whispering Puppets’.”

‘Solace and consolation’ as in a Schubertian Grand Duo of history and legend – or Author and Reader. Reality and Truth, each not necessarily the same thing at all. Pontius Pilate and Christ.  You know, when you sense, as I do, that you are one of the very first readers of this story, let ‘alone’ one of its first public reviewers, you feel indeed alone with it, tantamount to the first reader and reviewer, tussling and grappling (in that Grand Duo) with portents and elements of Russian History, the stolen Madonna, her (blood-permeable?) jewels  and many other symptoms of belief (logical and superstitious in solace and consolation), a belief in undercurrents that politically explain or poetically ‘sing’ (by a lost balladeer) of the duo of conflict and tragedy from 1904 towards a large part of the 20th century through the eyes of blended tales within a tale: and I think I counted the tales properly: nine. If not nine in truth, certainly in reality. The extra odd one being the tale that contains the four duos.  But one author and, perhaps, only one reader – steeped ‘in soul’ and in time’s lonely, sometimes unscryable, audit-trail of truth and reality. This work makes the ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ passé. Meanwhile, the story’s  duo of style and language is exquisite. (21 Jul 11 – three hours later)

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The Cadaver Is You – by Michael Cisco

“As is reported to be the case in Hades, everything was washed out.”

In tune with our reaction to the previous story, in this artful Tarr & Fether provocation of ‘truth and reality’ we begin again ‘tussling and grappling’ with what we read and about whom – in an inverse sort of canine anthropomorphism – where we learn later that we are indeed struggling for meaning via another layer of characters with whom we feel we should empathise and sympathise while they read what we have just read as if we are now saner and less absurd and somehow less false than those about whom we had been reading.  The more of us there are the more brain size we control. So we shall wait for more readers to read what we have just read. For ‘we’, please read ‘I’ – until ‘you’ join me from where you are or hopefully from whom you are rather than from what you are or have become – or will become via scrying the astrology of  1712. (21 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

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The Darkest White – by Rhys Hughes

Chapter 0: Prelude / Chapter I: The Magnifying Glass

“There are many places in the world where east meets west, but Sukhumi is one where the north overlaps with the south so precisely that nothing comes of any attempt to detach them.”

Similarly, here is where the essence of Rhys-Hughesian fictionatronics that we all love seems, so far, to meet a relatively sane literary treatment of politics / history … but the best of both worlds rather than a straight blend. Indeed, this novellarette’s title is one of genius given the context of this book.  And, as I have publicly remarked before in my real-time reviews, many 20th century East European literary stories start in a cafe and here is no exception (the Cafe Morphine of the book’s title by the sound of it); the story-within-that-story also starts in a cafe, too!  We are promised that an object-in-hand will be explained by the inner story’s end, an inner story wherein we have another object, too, being sold as the three Zander brothers release experimentation mini-King Kongs (my expression, not the story’s) from cages while civil war encroaches and fleeing’s itch ensues – mixed with a “perverted economic basis” that reminds me of today’s news headlines of the mutantly simian attempts to call a default not a default in a more modern Europe…  An enthralling start to the novellarette. (22 Jul 11)

Chapter II: The Wisdom of Sticks / Chapter III: The Departing Treasure

“They showed him how to feign appeasement and how to give the impression of yielding while remaining in control.”

There is always much wisdom beneath the puns and wordplay of Rhys Hughes, and here the wisdom shines forth without such disguise as well as with it.  The numerology of not only economics but history.  And the ricochet of Ottoman and Armenian, White and Red…  The brothers – prior to arriving in Baku – make a creative form of Musketeer oath with each other – to be alone and/or together, an alternating current of strength and weakness. (22 Jul 11 – two hours later)

Chapter IV: The Scimitar / Chapter V: An Impulsive Decision

“Magnates had bribed the coalition authorities;…”

Now voyaging – towards a toxic lake, as it turns out, retrocausally – from Baku to a place with its own name’s redolent oriental aura: Bukhara – the brothers face various coalitions or ‘duos’, of sense and nonsense, true religion and false religion, blended pairs of reincarnatory existences – and the fraternal trio threatens to become a duo by dint of ditch or haha (my expression, not the story’s)  or by dint of that unhealthy lake’s premonition of one brother devoting his destiny to doom in the hope it isn’t doom at all but paired with or infiltrated by its opposite: fortune.  (Little does he know, I sense, that ‘fortune’, despite its positive aura, can be bad as well as good. Like ‘Bukhara’?). (22 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Chapter VI: On the Terrible Lake

“Nothing is what I hope to find.”

Nothing = this book’s earlier “Hollow Earth”. The single brother in devotion to his own Salt Lake City of the soul, in tune with mending by breaking and breaking by mending (akin to what I call the erstwhile ‘Musketeer’ oath) by dint of a multi-religion ‘nirvana’?  This is strong literature. White and red in tooth and claw. “The perfection would thus be imposed retroactively.” (22 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Chapter VII: The City of Defiance / Chapter VIII: The Bleeding Ears

“Those squares of the mystic chessboard known as nights and days passed with an impeccable shift.”

I truly admire this fiction as I experience the broad sweep conveyed of landscape / geography, historical perspective / knowledge, spiritual madness / sanity, as we follow the two remaining brothers (together, apart, together again), and eventually rumours of the ‘ice and salt’  lost brother, all three brothers perhaps providing some form of ‘Holy Trinity’ of the human condition: paradoxically together yet apart. (22 Jul 11 – another hour later)

Chapter IX: The Map /Chapter ∞ : Redemption

“They had reached the other café.”

In view of all the foregoing, this provides a shockingly perfect ending, for which you will need to read this novellarette to experience for yourself, to crystallise the ‘we’ from my ‘I’. Crystallise as in salt or snow under the magnifying-glass? Suffice to say Jonathan Wood’s erstwhile “Hollow Earth” was not a million miles away. Nor the anthropomorphism of King Kong? Or all that may be my subterfuge to detract from spoilers or Bolsheviks. (22 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

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A Country Doctor – by Adam Golaski

“Briefly, I was distracted by the shape of a snowflake that reminded me of a poem:…”

A doctor called to and from variously-aged women, a girl patient, her maid, a previous girl patient’s donated embroidered-blanket to keep him warm on the urgent sleigh’s journey, yet another waiting for him to return – a Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Anton Chekhov incident that haunts the stiff pages of this book, one of which pages might be used to funnel or chase dreams of forgetfulness in powder form…the sharpest funnel of all being the one that can deliver dreams of forgetfulness melted or distilled from the Winter of our souls by directly penetrating the skin with such a page’s words made fluid.  A book that is laden with more than just morphine.  A variation on a theme that allows this review to drain a story: thus to reveal an emotional essence that might otherwise escape, not unread, but unfelt. (22 Jul 11 -another 3 hours later)

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Archaic Artificial Suns – by D.P. Watt

“The line stretched around the street, into the distance as far as he could see. No doubt to the very gates of Hades.”

One of those stories that, in hindsight, will become a major reading event. ‘Queuing Behind Crazy People’ syndrome (some people labelled like lists in a Zoo), morphine queuing in the vein along the “tearing paper” that this book itself as a physical object conspires against but paradoxically encourages, Mikhail himself faced with a cruel theatrically Shakespearean charade-bouffe that takes on a dramatic, political, emotional, comic, cosmic truth via the two-way filter of a tapestried proscenium balcony-entrance, if not the last balcony or entrance of all. Towards or from the “galaxies of emptiness” that are the entrancing or entranced eyes that absorb these words like drugs. Then “kaboom!” like the Baboon of Nothing from ‘The Darkest White’. Itself awaiting another bearish buffoonery to follow. Exeunt Omnes. (23 Jul 11)

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Only for the Crossed-Out – by Adam S. Cantwell

“What could a tree’s devilish complexity mean to an ordered and just mind,…”

Well, you simply knew I was going to LOVE this story, [especially after editing and publishing the HA of HA!  This seems some sort of culmination of that spirit – albeit an exterior force – but, via the Cantwell-wrought spirit of our friend Mikhail, a welcome unexpected synergy with this other book]. It tells of a library censor (and includes a library policeman!) – the paradoxes of fashion affecting textual censorship in both creativity and spirit, retrocausal as well as linear – the books themselves igniting into their own form of prehensile, ink-veined anthropomorphism as they fall upon our censor down the chute – the ultimate book for dangerous heaviness and hybrid power no doubt being the very one in which I’ve just been reading this story!  I’ve often talked, over the years, about classical music being akin to fiction injected straight into the vein.  This story (if not the whole book) is the first occasion where I’ve genuinely discovered the ‘matter’ of fiction injected straight into the vein.  [And I’m glad I’ve encountered this story before my own fiction of self enters the baffle-less master-artery of death.] (23 Jul 11 – four hours later)

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The Fearful and Wonderful Phantasm of Time – by Charles Schneider

“A Great Demon, clearly one of Satan’s right-hand minions, was spotted in an expensive restaurant in Novgorod.

I was in Novgorod last year – but I visited a church there (for its iconostasis), not a restaurant.  This is a Blakean, Joe-Pulverian ‘synchronised shards of random truth & fiction’ disguised as stream-of-conscious – prose-poeticising the scatology of eschatology (and vice versa) – with many literary references and oxymorons. Brick by brick, like the censor’s library, aforementioned. “…Hell and Heaven are not to be found in an old book. They exist where the past and future intersect with geographical locations.” — “Each day I pack and send my treasured books away, to be stored in Dreamland.” — “…I saw a hinge at the base of the enshrined statue’s glass dome, as if it could revolve and display another statue after the polluted dusk arrived.” — “Hell is but Heaven for another Hell, and Another!” — “The Centropoli of Hades.” — “…garish massive faux toenails which the gold-chained simians truck about oh so proudly in,…” (23 Jul 11 – another hour later)

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The Black Swan of Odessa – by Allyson Bird

“Fiction does not feed my body.”

A cleverly intriguing story involving co-writers in a scrawny flat and their understudy of a ballerina neighbour who seems to bring truth to their one published work. As I read, I thought to myself, I am going to remark how there are many evocative ‘touches of detail’ (I used that phrase to myself) – and when you read it, you will know what I mean – but then the concept ‘detail’ later took on an unexpected importance. One of them “adored detail“, but was it God or the Devil in it? Like the detail that floats into the last paragraph…  A perfect, spooky ending, but, wonderfully, I don’t quite know why it is is quite so perfect, quite so spooky.

“…if Larisa’s dancing was anything like the control of her narrative she must have danced herself off the stage and into the audience at least once in her life.” (23 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

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The Heart of a Man – by Justin Isis

“Kolesnikov, ensconced for years in the office of the Mir journal, had long been famous for his negative reviews.”

A story I need to read again (review, literally) – Hegel, meta-fictionary existences, Eyes Wide Shut rites-of-passage – and anthropomorphism explained by a human heart being placed within an animal  – reviewing books making them what you say they are, bad books good, good books bad, everything is its opposite, a reality-creation rolled out as meta-meta-meta…-fictions , more Bulgacoffian cafés, fiction (when demetaed – not demented – to its bottom bone) as the only reality, illicit love-affairs nodded through as part of an over-riding plot of fates one ultimately wants to come to fruition – and this story is not worth reading. It stinks.  For, read it and sink into nothingness, namelessness. “Within each apparent unity is a corresponding duality, and vice versa.” The Schubertiad of a  Grand Duo again (four hands on one piano or two pairs of hands on two pianos)? The ultimate negativity. This story will need re-reading forever, so for God’s sake resist even reading it once! “- he’s considering writing reviews and publishing them under your name. Would you agree to that?” (23 Jul 11 – another three hours later)

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Chaconne – by Nina Allan

“His chair had been gutted, slit straight up the back and disembowelled. The person that did this had presumably been looking for valuables,…”

Unquestionably a major story and, I guess, it is one of Bulgakov’s heart-and-souls of this book, if not possibly (as remains to be seen) the core one to fill the “Hollow Earth” of our receptiveness – and a Bulgakov virgin when this book began all those stiff pages ago would no longer be such a virgin having read to this point in the book, and even this Bulgakov virgin reader would by now have lithely shape-shifted from a snow-uncrystallised cat and “hunkered down” (as if during one of its nine lives?) at the book’s ‘feet’ into something akin to the Behemoth or Old Scratch.  This story – irrespective of all that – was certain to appeal to me. When I see the word Chaconne, I think of Britten’s String Quartet No 2 that has a Chaconne based on Purcell. Here, meanwhile, what I said earlier about classical music being fiction injected straight into the vein, really comes home to roost with a bird’s furled wings.  Brahms, Scriabin, Beethoveen’s’Hammerklavier’ &c. &c. – this story seriously drips with music and its prehensile notation, while contrasting with the destruction of pianos, human limbs, even whole bodies, as we follow Alena – a pianist and composer – retrocausally dealing with Europe’s diaspora of people and cities pre- and post the War, and with her lost lover, lost sister, and diverse forms of physical sex on the brink of being made music. Is this story the book’s gestalt? Or do I have to journey further to realise that this was just another way-station of leitmotifs? If the latter, it is a substantial one, honed to stylistic perfection. I can’t praise it enough. [I can now replace the black swanbird’s chair, its back resewn.] (24 Jul 11)

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The Tsarina’s Wintercoat – by me

“…tentacular monsters who, in the same way as human beings, had insect-pests with which to contend – “

Written some years ago in its original form, I’ll leave others to comment on this vignellarette.  I’ll only mention it again if it has some bearing on the book’s eventual gestalt. As it does already, perhaps, when relating the following quote to Rhys Hughes’ earlier ‘Holy Trinity’ variation: “From behind the derelict station house, I approached the solitary threesome (guessing that such a few could sometimes feel more solitary than being truly alone as one).” (24 Jul 11 – two hours later)

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The Exquisite Process of Gala Gladkov – by R.B. Russell

“I was carving some panels that were to form the backs of a set of chairs…”

– interrupting which ostensibly incidental work was the arrival of the carpenter’s old but neglected friend – and amid hints of political differences regarding the still living memory of history and politics concerning the Russian Revolution between those of whom this friend now tells the carpenter in an intriguing Fable of Retrocausality, concerning turning back fates as well as clocks vis-a-vis the friend’s love / marital life. The story within the overall story (the latter artfully ‘carved’ by R.B. Russell to contain it), in this way, is like putting fictional things inside something non-fictional (i.e. inside an object like a real chair or a real heavy-duty book (like this one published by Ex Occidente Press), I muse, without this story directly causing me thus to muse) to make it all seem or actually become non-fictional. Truth and reality running in parallel and nobody knows which is the one in disguise? (24 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

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Café Morphine – by  Eric Stener Carlson

“Snow? It was July, for God’s sakes. How could there be snow?”

A lengthy, absurdist, often very humorous fable or parable concerning an Argentine unionist in 1921 travelling by train through Europe to a Union conference – sometimes mistaken by post-Revolution officials as a Jew or an Assyrian! – and he now makes a Poliakoff-type of inter-journey stop-over in a dislocatedly posh café – having already experienced confused absences and presences in the train carriage itself amid conversations about Kant and Heidegger – still clasping his precious box that the story opens for us at least twice – meets a self-confessed, untraditional ‘vampire’ – a vampire that feeds off or supplies Time itself (fresh from its reported propensity to retrocausality in R.B. Russell) – and I’m getting breathless and time-drained trying to cover (in one sentence) every point of this story which I evidently can’t because I’d need to tell it all over again while I re-read it – and why Café Morphine, I hear you ask – well, as I dream of “racing across the endless Iberian fields”, I dream, too, that Time (like Brian Ferry’s ‘love’ and Brahms’ Chaconne) is the drug for the veins (perhaps disguised as coffee to keep you awake) – and it gave birth to this whole book’s title that in turn gave the café  its name in this story so as to give it back to the book’s title, a name flying back and forth between like a butterfly. Second sentence: I loved this story for (but not only for) its timely message on how to spend one’s time-of-life with some ability to milk it to its last dreg. (24 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

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The Philosophy of the Damned – by Reggie Oliver

“The raising of the curtain on the first act was to him like the coming of dawn to a traveller by night, an event of unblemished hope.”

…indeed, the opening of any theatrical event that one has long anticipated in child-like trepidation and pleasure – and a new substantial story by Reggie Oliver is no exception. Petropol in the 1919 Crimea … and the theatre manager – himself with some trepidation – hires a new troupe. One that provides a zoo-like climax that is attuned to earlier caged simians in this book – and other anthropomorphic tricks: anthropomorphism that works both ways! This is another Reggie Oliver theatrical weird fiction classic of Hadean elegance – so fitting for this Hadean book.  And its ending is so provincial in quite a perfectly unexpected, but comforting and home-is-where-the-heart-is, manner, after all the dream-envisaged D.P. Wattian cabarets-bouffes that preceded it within this book and this story itself – and the Red Army that hearsay tells us followed it given no prior escape that fiction is supposed to provide in the guise of escapism. (24 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

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Red Green Black White – by John Howard

“…now coloured by the minute flecks of powdered paint and desiccated paper, drifting down in the still air from the ikons and portraits as they dry out; wood warping and splitting, paper curling and disintegrating, and leaving such spaces that she cannot remember what it was that filled them.”

…like vampiric time being drained to its last dregs again? This breathtaking patchwork or kaleidoscope of a fiction tells of more spaces to be filled, as a shape-shifting ‘agent provocateur’ “assumes” and “bodies-out” as different characters or many characters as history meets history in their own war to become the real-History –(like reading this whole book up to this point, in a synaesthetically exponential slow-strobing of the soul of Bulgakov that also crosses borders like fluid countries with no edges or with ever new edges (like morphine or music in the veins?))– in the real-Historical Balticana of 1918ish Ukrainia-German-Austro-Hungary, Poland &c &c, its various historical characters, treaties, events… “Your problem is that you do not – and cannot – see the larger picture that I can. You will never see it, and know your part in all these laughable dramas. You are not only drowning in history, you are already past, and becoming forgotten.” (25 Jul 11)

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The Immortal Death of Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich – by Mark Beech

“…hacking ungraciously at those great chunks of stone, straining all the while for the spark of a colour-filled memory or the swell of a kind of music…”

A compelling, extremely well-told story (told on a train to others) with a linear plot of non-linearity as the impermanence of the identity of the Russian God beyond an iconostatsis of a seeming immortality – immortality subsumed by the harsh ephemerality of politics upon the people – sculptures-of-likeness, thus, that are as tenuous as the man who sculpted them or as the man whom he sculpted with such well-intentioned permanence even if originally a skill granted for the nonce by an inscrutable stranger (one’s own ‘disintentionalised’ author if one is a character in a book) – and I nearly cried at some of the implications; and how all this sort of sums up this book itself: each story a sculpture of words on stiff pages within even stiffer covers and a seemingly untearable textured dust-jacket (a theory of untearability never to be tested)… “apulse with all the industrial noise and primary colours of a constructivist future.” — “…a wide balcony. / Quiet at last! a clear crisp Moscow night opened around him. The red stars flickered over the Kremlin walls. In the park beneath him, he thought he could make out one of his Stalins.” (25 Jul 11 – two hours later)

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I Listened to Laika Crying in the Sky – by Albert Power

“Darkness. And the barking – hack – hack – hack … of terror and confusion.”

If this were the last story in the book, I’d deem this the perfect coda (but that is the privilege of this book’s last story that is the only one I’ve read before)  or perhaps this Laika one is the rising fall (as opposed to the more common ‘dying fall’) of Nina Allan’s new chaconne, as the book enters Khrushchev’s era and – when three men and an eight year old girl are on an expedition upon the very cusp of winter’s ice for snipe and teal bagging – with, nearby, sputnik’s launchpad. The dog in space – the true rising fall – an anthropomorphic stretching-out towards that shifting Russian God beyond the iconostasis of new-found space or of Rhys Hughes’ ‘nothing’ – away from that erstwhile ‘Hollow Earth’. The later deserted girl’s vision in the snow of who I assume to be Bulgakov himself is remarkable. And the alignment of some antiquated words scattered throughout contrasts with the breaking-news of modernity represented by the launch of sputnik. A poetic experience the strength of which is that it cannot be nailed down through any part of our now (at this point in the book) well-exercised, well-toned reading-limbs, if I can coin a phrase for the spiritual antenna required when reading potentially great literature of the future’s past. (25 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

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I only read and reviewed the final story below a week or so ago in the author’s book ‘The Exorcist’s Travelogue’ – and beneath I show my very slightly corrected real-time review from that time which, happily, is, as it turns out, the coda for both books:

The Farewell Letter  – by George Berguño

“Suddenly, I spied Joseph Stalin on the opposite balcony – and our eyes met.”

…with another ‘ancient longing’? Mikhail Bulgakov – being written about by his wife to his brother. — “…several years trickled by” and there is much to ponder here: things to dwell upon that should never really resolve this book’s coda. Accessible or esoteric history of our recent times, reincarnation (permanence?) by lycanthropy or anthropomorphism, the misanthropic transience of old fogies like me and Molière’s Alceste. The mating-dance of literature with literature. The eventual madreperl of regret. It’s like listening to an unknown piece by Mahler as the last piece in the last concert.  (15 Jul 11)

That moment on the balcony is so utterly moving, even more so now, in view of the Mark Beech story. (25 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later).

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The two stories that – I’m told – should also be in this book (together with, I suspect, Karim Ghahwagi’s ‘Amerika‘, with my review of it linked above somewhere) are A Certain Power by Mark Valentine and The Horned Tongue by Stephen J. Clark (the links being to my reviews of those stories).  Are there any more that were meant to be in this book? Not  a rhetorical question. If any later come to light, I shall mention them in the comments below this review.  Till, then, I keep my powder dry.  Other than to say – as I hope has come across above – this is one helluva book!!

 Does the gestalt of what is in the book differ from that with all that should have been in it? But perhaps that’s the very point of the book – as well as the crux or noumenon that I’ve been seeking, these few years, by carrying out my real-time reviews. One Platonic Form of Real-Time Review that they will all eventually coalesce into because they were meant to be in the one book – the ultimate heavyweight tome that sits in my head with the feeling of a still-unhewn stone sculpture? I now risk entering pretentious realms even I dare not enter. Suffice to say, I really loved the Justin Isis story above. I make that point in case there was any misunderstanding about my Molièrean misanthropy as an “assumed” or “bodied-out” curmudgeon or old fogey.  

What more can I say? That cat with poppy-eyes on the dust-jacket above stares mockingly as I write this, telling me that all reviews must end somewhere. So be it. I’ll end it in the Café Morphine. Join me there for the nonce, whatever you think of me.  I’ll be the one in the chair with the thickest back.

END (25 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

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The whole of my lifetime work with Elizabeth Bowen Quotes is now in a book

The Megazanthus Press Book: Real-Time Reviews Vol 3 is now out and in my hands. It looks wonderful. And there is a real treat within. Please see the end of the contents list below.

As is common with this series, it is a direct imprint from the internet and contains no contents lists. The list is therefore below.

This contains RTRs for:

LOST PLACES by Simon Kurt Unsworth….3

THE WOUNDS OF EXILE by Reggie Oliver ….22

MINDFUL OF PHANTOMS by Gary Fry….27

XARGOS by Frances Oliver….40

OBLIVION’S POPPY by Colin Insole….42

OCCULTATION by Laird Barron…57

THE SATYR by Stephen J Clark….70

THE AUTUMN MYTH by Joel Lane…..79

THE COANDA EFFECT by Rhys Hughes….83

MAD MATINEE IN BAKU by Albert Power….98

NORTHWEST PASSAGES by Barbara Roden….107

THE SONS OF ISHMAEL by George Berguno….121

THE GHOSTS OF SUMMER by Frances Oliver….132

THE DEFEAT OF GRIEF by John Howard….148

My very popular, many years’ worth on-line work at quoting from Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction. You will not quite believe the power of these extracts from every novel chapter and every story…… Pages 158 – 415 inclusive

—————-

This is the book and further details by clicking on it:

 

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Oblivion’s Poppy – by Colin Insole

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of the novella entitled ‘Oblivion’s Poppy’ by Colin Insole (Ex Occidente Press 2010).

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

 

Strikingly, this is what is said of the book on its Publisher’s site: <<We should be very clear about this: Colin Insole is one of the very few genuine exceptional authors to emerge on the weird scene in the last years, if not in the last decade. To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate. […] Oblivion’s Poppy is a breathtaking work of European decadent and weird literature. Certainly not for those who drink their wine with water.>>

I keep my powder dry. I have not yet started it!

This is what the publisher’s website says of its format (and it is indeed a beautiful book): <<…large landscape format, sewn hardcover with dust-jacket printed on textured cardboard paper, cloth boards, gold folio, silk ribbon, end papers and full-color frontispiece. […] a sewn hardcover book of 108 pages with dust-jacket, silk ribbon, endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 hand numbered copies.>>

 Surprisingly, beneath the above dustjacket, the book’s hard cover clearly shows in large gold letters a different title embossed on its front (there may be a reason for this that I have not yet fathomed) and this is: <<THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED Stefan George.>>

 I am unnumbered. (23 Nov 10)

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Pages 1 – 14

A Retreat (or Redoubt?) to where humans migrate with the homing instinct of nature’s creatures, accompanied by the astonishing prose music as well as redolence of the immediately prior direnesses in Europe. The Retreat’s Masonic stone guardians, as well as its real unfettered Host, watch the wet arrival of those for whom there had been earlier scavengings continent wide – one a female whose passage by past photograph is facilitated by the telling of it and all others by their earlier coming of it. One reading is not nearly enough. But one reading will suffice for these my initially risky real-time impressions.

And deep within a cave, near the Wilderness of the Wild Apples, a lynx twitched its ears and dreamed of the wildwood, in the old times, before humans breathed.” (23 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)

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[It has since become clear to me that the ‘title’ under the dustjacket is not a title at all but a quote! One that I shall comment upon if this seems appropriate when reading the rest of the novella. However, I maintain that it looks like a title in large gold upper-case lettering right across the front. Indeed, with nothing on the spine, if any edition of this book ever loses its dustjacket (as books sometimes do) and then turns up in a secondhand bookshop, someone will pick up the book and may assume it’s THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED by Stefan George. He’ll likely put it back on the shelf without looking inside. After all, he was looking for a book by his favourite writer Colin Insole! That’s not a criticism, but an observation. In fact, I think it’s a clever trick.] (23 Nov 10 – another hour later)

It is contended that it’s ‘obvious’ that it is a quote not a second title under the dustjacket. I may agree with that, using the benefit of hindsight by looking further into the book. But first impressions, at least to this reader, indicated it was a title ‘creatively’ conflicting with that on the dustjacket. Should it ever lose its dustjacket, the design shown below would be the only exterior wording on the book. (24 Nov 11)

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Pages 14 – 23

“… Beethoven’s Third Symphony and while it played, sombre and proud, he sat deep in thought, his eyes filling with tears.”

I am beginning to agree with the statement I quoted above from the publisher’s website: “To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate”. I do feel somewhat ‘indelicate’ attempting this real-time review, even to describe these pages I’ve just read as an exquisite series of ‘backstories’ to the ‘migration’ and ‘direnesses’ hinted at in my first attempt at engaging with this book above.

The inward, initially unseen ‘title’ or ‘quote’ is perhaps merely a literary ‘exegesis’ as warning to any approaching this book’s mysteries lightly.

I shall continue, however, and, meanwhile, I am obliquely, ‘indelicately’ reminded of what I wrote about this author’s story in the anthology ‘Cinnabar’s Gnosis’: –<<The Weimar Spider – Colin Insole: …exquisitely wallows in the sense of Mittel-European turn-of-the-centry towards mid-twentieth century weaving Baudelaire, Verlaine, Alban Berg, Ezra Pound – with more ‘rumours and possibilities’, relationships crossing time and tarot. And a magic mysterious bookishness akin to that of Mark Valentine fiction. Loved it. (There is a skein of narrative tentacles that will need un-weaving upon later re-reading I guess. Not retro-causal so much as Jungian via accidents-of-mind-and-body). All this and Meyrink himself walking through the words implicitly becoming a Proustian self that he perhaps never knew as himself when alive.“The rhymes and rhythms of forgotten people. You can hear their heart beats through the walls.” (22 Dec 09 – four hours later)>> — (24 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)

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There is another, more substantial, quote inside the book before the novella starts, a quote from Ernst Jünger. I am tempted to quote it in full here as I feel it sheds more light upon my tusslings with text above, my indelicate exigency of exegesis, but it would possibly be a spoiler to do so.

Pages 24 – 27

“The rose hips were red or violet – burgundy-dark and noxious.”

The narration does not shy away from the indelicate manure of Retreat living, as connected with the work of another of its one-time denizens – coupled, ironically (?), with an oblique vision of Plato’s cave. (24 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)

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Pages 27 – 37

“Aside from our role as witnesses to this forthcoming ordeal, I am glad I have come here.”

I, too, am glad, although the seer is never thanked, it seems.

The focus of the Retreat’s happenings within the novella is clear from the beginning as 1952, and perhaps the time perspectives in Europe are clearer to you by virtue or guilt of that instinctive knowledge, including the harmonics of the universe, and other matters with which you may not otherwise be in tune  such as knightly masonics, alchemy, and the mixture of motives within the Retreat’s Host and occupants, and narrator. Retreat as a constant Redoubt.  But there is much more to fathom, I sense.  This novella is so rich, I feel sated with possibilities and echoes of heritages within me. Sated, but also elated.

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Pages 37 – 47

“There is no need to be afraid. There are no ghosts. The unhappy souls remembered here left this world as if they never existed. Their lives amounted to nothing and when they died, nothing remained. Only their names and deeds are recorded.”

I could not resist quoting those words of the Host to the Retreat’s denizens. It touched me deeply.  And the camponology of time now rings louder.  (‘Host’ is my word in this context, by the way, not the book’s  and its nearness to ‘ghost’ is merely coincidental). (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)

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Pages 48 – 54

“They were imagining their own deaths and walking in landscapes they had never seen.”

Various viewpoints, including a woman’s journal running like a thread in the book so far, and the Host’s listening, for example, to a denizen’s story, add to a permeating feel of Toynbeean history surrounding the crux of European war during the years leading up to ‘now’ in 1952.  Almost a knightly or scholastic approach to a ‘spirit’ of that war’s guilt.  [Disregarding this European war element for a moment, I find that there is a feel in this work like – or a non-conscious synergy with – some of the fiction work of Matt Cardin.  Knightly in Insole’s work, but Monkish in Cardin’s?] (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)

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Pages 55 – 66

“My own city, the home of Chopin, is recalled in the contents of milk cans and metal boxes.”

I visited Warsaw in the last few weeks – on the road to Minsk and beyond – and heard from an 84 year old about the Ghetto etc. I am steeped – like it or not – in history’s push, even if I didn’t live at the time. This novella is about that – the ‘alternate world’ of history that is ‘you’.  Also the book’s ‘guests’ of the Retreat is a better word than my ‘denizens’. A redoubt as to whether I am a ‘seer’ at all!  And if not, I can be thanked for just being a fallible reader! Indeed, this book will need re-reading, as well as redoubting. (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)

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Pages 66 -71

“They knew nothing about the secret purpose of the Retreat and assumed it was a closed monastic order which sold its honey, fruit and vegetables in the local market.”

[‘Monastic’ is so much more the ‘mot juste’ than ‘monkish’!]

Reference to the ‘fiction’ of Lord Haw-Haw – followed by cinematic vision of a girl with a doll (Cf: Schindler’s List?) – this time riddled with malignancy.

I think I am already convinced, by the way, that the publisher was not exaggerating when saying what I quoted him saying above about this author’s work. I also fail to do it justice, I’m afraid, as I’m sure I’m missing things on this my first reading. (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)

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Pages 72 – 77

An amazing vision of huge poppies that the Host shows his Guests, beyond the size of those at Flanders Fields. [Appropriate that I had Poppy thoughts myself a week or so ago?] There are wonderful symbols hovering around this book – poppies, bees, lynx, apples…. This book will need to ferment for several years amid the underswell of eclectic nature, I guess? (24 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment.  The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens? (24 Nov 10 – bedtime)

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Perhaps I should record here that it is clear from the start of this book that the Retreat is situated in Wliflingen, West Germany. (25 Nov 10)

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Pages 77 – 89

“Only the master of the refuge must fill the silver bowl with the blooms, ripening buds and seed pods, cut on the eve of solstice.”

Retreat as ‘refuge’?  How many more words for redoubt?  In this section I have more pencilled passages than any previous section.  This seems the veritable crux of … our guilt trip? Or heroic venture? Or literary trail-blazing into the very soul’s sump of our civilisation?   In my first official comments (without looking back first), I think I mentioned the word Masonic. That was an inspired guess at that time.  I have now entered upon further crusades with this book and its ‘Sentinel’. You will do so, too, because, if you are reading this review at all to this point (in real time or otherwise), you must be susceptible to reading this book in the first place.  But if this is a ‘seeing’ of our communal soul for what it is, I shall be ready not to be thanked.  (Cf: the works of Frances Oliver (eg ‘All Souls’) and John Howard  (eg the story ‘Silver Voice’ itself)). (25 Nov 10 – nine hours later)

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Pages 89 – 92

“It was impossible to quarrel in the Halls of Fire for even bitter enemies, seeing each other, would be separated by lifetimes of memory.”

The eternal lynx…

I myself wrote of the eternal lynx of the onyx field in a sixties poem and later in a 1974 novel (‘The Visitor’). (25 Nov 10 – thirty minutes later)

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Pages 92 – 96

“Rats will nest and breed in a corpse even while they feed on its internal organs.”

It’s as if we readers are being tested by the ‘mirror’ of this book itself. We shall either succeed or fail in our interpretations of it.  If we fail, the publisher will be on our tails.  I really feel like that.

Also, it’s as if we have lived with this book forever, even though we’ve only evidentially been reading it for the first time in the last day or so. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later).

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Pages 96 – 104

“He was sixty-two.”

But not for much longer. The book closes in on me in a very personal way.

An apocalypse, an apocrypha, a symbiosis of symbols craftily laid earlier by this book now either to explode like text-mines in new newsworthy wars or to blend into a new Host, a new Masonic Eucharist, a camponology of words – a redemption, though? We guests can only hope. There is so much sin to expiate. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later)

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Pages 104 – 108

“…the power of the remaining poppies seemed somnolent and subdued.”

The gift to me is the residue of an imputedly great author who leaves me his book after he is swallowed up finally by his words. Not necessarily the naked book itself with false title, but the memory of his book that is stronger than anything I can hold in my hands. I end a review that only harvests itself as a gift exchanged.

“It is Beethoven’s manuscript for some bagatelles and light dances. Look, there is his signature.” (25 Nov 10 – after a final 30 minutes elapsed)

END

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